Tuesday, March 20, 2018

From Stadium to Sea: Shambling the Los Angeles Marathon 2018

About two years ago, in 2016, I wrote a post about running the Los Angeles marathon.  One month after that marathon, I broke my leg.

What followed was (and still is) a nightmare recovery period.  If you're wondering how I'm going to relate this back to Marvel, here you go!

Since I attend a lot of conventions, I realized recently that I have pictures of the slow, two-year recovery so far, and that those pictures are all sort of themed and fit together, which is nice.

Anywho, in 2018, I decided to run the marathon again because I thought it made for a nice narrative.

2019: wheelchair.
No, wait...

I can't say it was as nice as the 2016 marathon because, among other things, my leg was fucked up and had to be in a brace and a compression bandage; I was not allowed to put any impact on my leg which meant that I was basically speed-walking instead of properly jogging or running; also, I completely and totally failed to prepare in any way whatsoever.  I mean, we're talking, like, 48 hours before the race, I realized I didn't even own trainers, and I bought a pair less than 24 hours beforehand, at the convention where I was picking up my racing bib.

They're super fly tho.

I tried to take some pictures so that I'd be able to provide a step-by-step (haaa) account of what it's like to mosey a marathon when you refused to train in any meaningful way whatsoever.  Please note that I do not recommend this.

You know the first guy who ever ran a marathon died, right?

 RIP Pheidippides 530 BC - 490 BC

Without further ado, please enjoy my 26-mile journey.

Mile 0: I was feeling delightfully cocky at the beginning of the race.  I'd done this before and I knew what to expect, which was pain, pain, and pain.  I had purchased an appropriate headband which, I hoped, would only get funnier with every mile.

Mile 1: The Los Angeles marathon begins at Dodgers Stadium.  It is so crowded that there is actually very little running for the first quarter-mile; you are simply moving as a herd, waiting for it to thin.  There's a lot of energy, announcers on speakers, music, people cheering, et cetera.  Also there's a guy in a jester's outfit who stands on a box at mile 0.2 with a sign that says, "ONLY 26 MILES TO GO!"

Upon leaving Dodgers Stadium, the race begins on Sunset Blvd., heading south-east and taking a U-turn around mile 3 to snake back up to Sunset heading north-west.

Mile 2: Mile two follows Cesar Chavez Blvd and runs through Chinatown.  It is absolutely my favorite mile because the sights are gorgeous and you are not yet in pain during this leg of the race.  Also the crowd has thinned and you can set your own pace now.  There is often a mini-parade or two on the corners featuring Chinese dragons and people bashing gongs to encourage you.  (Or maybe they are cursing the foolishness of white people who voluntarily agree to run 26 miles; I don't know enough about Chinese culture to say for certain.)

Mile 3: Mile three takes you through the heart of downtown L.A.  This is a great experience because not only are you closing down businesses for a day and trashing the streets with garbage, but you're happily running amidst scores of homeless people who screech such encouragements as "WHO'S CHASIN' YOU?  WHO'S CHASIN' YOU?" and "MY EYES!  I CAN'T SEE MY EYES!"

Seeing the streets littered with little paper cups is absolutely my least favorite part of the marathon.

Discarded clothes are also tossed on the sidewalks, to be gathered up by the homeless or by event coordinators, who wash them and give them back to the homeless.  This is a small bit of good that comes out of the race.  I watched many people pause to offer their windbreakers (no longer needed) to onlooking homeless people.  Also, the homeless cheerfully help themselves to the free bananas, oranges, and Gatorade provided for the runners.  

Passing the courthouse at mile 3.

At this mile, you start to see a lot of crowds forming around Port-a-Potty banks, because running makes you have to go.  There are lots of signs along the racetrack that says things like "Wave if you peed yourself a little!" and "It's okay to poop your pants today!"  

This is just one of the many glamorous aspects of hoofing a marathon.

Mile 4: At mile 4 I ironically texted one of my friends, "I regret everything."  At mile 4 you begin to have the slow, dawning realization that you've made a terrible mistake.

Also you pass the Disney Concert Hall!

Mile 5: Miles 5 continues to snake its way through downtown L.A., crossing the 101 freeway and heading north to re-join Sunset Blvd.  This is the part of the race where, if you are bad at math, you say things like, "Wow, I just did a 5K!" and "I'm 1/5th of the way there!"

There were some police cadets sprinting past us.  I resented them for their speed.  They had no racing bibs; they were just exercising with us for a mile for fun, sort of like some of the homeless people from mile 3.

Mile 6: Miles 6 is when you are actually 1/5th of the way into the race and you start seeing people flagging.  God bless this lady, by the way.  Among all the signs that say things like "RUN FASTER, LARD-ASS," this lady was just there to be encouraging.  And with my bum leg I really did appreciate that.

Mile 6 also boasts a 10K marker.  If you're bad at math and missed the 5K marker back at mile 3, it's easy to become confused and think you went from 5 to 10 kilometers in the blink of an eye, giving you a false sense of confidence.

Mile 7: At mile 7, you pass through Echo Park into Silverlake.  Silverlake is a hipster paradise.  Silverlake used to have one of my favorite burger joints, which also hosted drag bingo on Tuesdays, and then closed down; I then unironically stated that I would go to any microbrew in Silverlake that had a vegan burger option.  This is hilarious because Silverlake had 0.3 vegan microbrews per person.

Marathon trash at mile 7.

I passed my motorcycle garage as well as a number of dog boutiques.  Some of the brunch places had remained open, and the flannel-shirted residents sat there stroking their ironic beards and eyeing us curiously.  Along this mile there were lots of casual runners who joined the race temporarily.  

Someone gave me a nutritional bar that was made of figs, egg whites, and nuts.  It tasted okay but it's possible that my judgement was clouded and it actually tasted like mulch.  My pain was at about a 3 or 4.

Mile 8: In the same way Echo Park, a largely residential and recreational area, merges seamlessly into the small business streets of Silverlake, so Silverlake merges seamlessly back into Los Feliz, which is a more residential area, a sort of second Echo Park.  Los Feliz is hilly and by mile 8 you are seriously wondering what in the fuck possessed you to do this.

Los Feliz featured a lot of yuppies sipping Americanos on their terraces, staring down at us, some with cowbells to encourage us but more with a sort of pitying look.  At mile 8 many runners have reduced speed and are looking like crap.

This was labeled "mile 8" in my photo album but I think it looks more like a mile 6.  
Who knows?  I sure didn't.  By ten kilometers I had lost all sense of self.

Mile 9: At mile 9, Sunset Blvd. straightens and you are now heading due west.  The marathon passed the Sunset turn and turned west one block north, on Hollywood, to take us through the most scenic part of Hollywood.  To the right is Griffith Observatory and to the left is a lovely view of the city.

My phone was unable to capture it and I did not want to stop moving for a photo op.

This mile feels easier because the ground has leveled out.  The hills of Echo Park, Silverlake, and Los Feliz give way to the straight and narrow of Hollywood Blvd. and the pavement is smooth.

There's a lot of businesses along the way and plenty to see, and lots of people offering water and food.  Protip: if you're running a marathon, take a cup of water or Gatorade EVERY time it is offered.  If you don't, you will quickly become dehydrated and regret it.  Even with a cup of water every time it's offered, you have probably stopped peeing by this time.  There are no longer lines for the bathrooms; no one is going even though everyone is drinking as much as they can get their hands on.

Mile 10: At mile 10 you feel a real sense of accomplishment because, boy howdy, you're in the double digits now.  Fogged with exhaustion, your brain will say things like, "you're practically halfway there!"  It is lying to you.

Mile 10 took me through Hollywood.  The sign was prominent on my right.

I began seeing some ominous signs that weren't Hollywood ones.  The large blue markers that were at each mile no longer had clocks on them, an indication that I was going a lot slower than I should be.  I attempted to pick up the pace.  I was scooting along at about 4 miles an hour, or a 15/16-mile minute.  This brisk walk was shocking difficult to keep up.  The shortness of my legs and the stiffness of my left knee were in cahoots against me, but I refused to be dissuaded from my goal.

"You don't tell me what to do, body.  I tell me what to do," I scolded it.

Mile 10 takes you through the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  Normally filled with tourists and homeless person pee and people trying to scam you into giving them money for their mix tapes, it was now filled with runners, runner person pee, and people trying to scam us into eating their bananas.

Protip: if you eat $200 worth of bananas, marathons are worth it!

Crossing over the 101 freeway again, I spotted a few signs for Scientology.  Back somewhere between mile 9 and 10 we had passed the Scientology Media Productions studio, which made me pick up my pace, at least temporarily.  Shortly after the 101 freeway is the Scientology Museum of Death.  I considered stopping in since I myself felt close to death.

Mile 11: Now in the heart of Hollywood, my marathon experience was turning into a fever dream.  I passed the Pantages theater and kept going, past Hollywood and Vine.

 Unlicensed Mickeys, Minnies, and Spidermen waved at us as we passed them, adding to the surrealness of the world.  The sun was high in the sky by now; it about 11 am and the sun was merciless.

Continuing on, we passed the TCL Chinese Theater, which some of you might remember from Iron Man 3.

Remember Iron Man 3?


Having seen the best that Hollywood boulevard had to offer, the route turned south, taking us down a precarious hill.  At the bottom of the hill we once again connected with Sunset and headed west.

Mile 12: At mile 12 my pain was at about a 5.  I felt sore and found myself struggling to main my four-miles-an-hour goal.  There are people in the race carrying large flags that say what minute mile you're at.  I kept pace with the 16-minute-mile guy for a half-mile before falling back; his legs were longer than mine and I realized that it was unrealistic to push myself when I was only halfway through the race.

I did feel a tiny bit of accomplishment knowing I was nearly halfway.  Also, although we were in Hollywood, which is very far north of my own stomping grounds, we were crossing streets familiar to me, such as La Brea.  La Brea and Crenshaw are about ten miles from the beach by my estimation, which meshed perfectly with the "halfway" point.  (My house is halfway between downtown and the beach.)

Fun fact: "La Brea" means "The Tar."  So the La Brea tar pits translates to, "The The Tar Tar pits."

Mile 13: I called Andy and Jack to meet me at the halfway point.  Both of them said, "holy shit," because they had not expected me to make it this far.  I passed mile 13 and continued, calling them to just meet me at the next mile, as I was still going.

They say if you can run a half-marathon, you can run a marathon.  I sincerely hoped that was true.

To my left, large construction diggers scooted around trying to gather up discarded cups.  They were already cleaning up this leg of the race!  I'd fallen behind, badly. 

Mile 14: For the next several miles I was playing leap-frog with the clean-up crew.  Most of the bands playing along the route were packing up their equipment.  There were still lots of people holding signs, though.  Still, having to go around trucks as they cleaned up water stations was depressing.  It was like being at a restaurant when they start putting the chairs up on the tables.

I missed Jack and Andrew again.  My back was screaming between my shoulders.  I considered removing my top but I did not want to discard it because it's my favorite Iron Man tank.

Mile 13 and 14 led me through the Sunset Strip, home of comedy clubs, strip clubs, my old therapy office (I waved as I passed it), and billboards every 2 feet.

I was, at this point, feeling extremely shitty.  I no longer thinking of the finish line, but of "one more mile," left foot right foot, and of meeting the twins, sorely in need of their encouragement.

Mile 15: Mile 15 moves south into West Hollywood.  Jack and Andy finally met up with me.  Both were shocked that I'd gotten so far and were very concerned with my leg.  (It was holding up A-OK in its ankle brace, knee brace, and compression bandage.)  They'd brought Icy Hot and Ibuprofen.  My back, aching for the last two miles, had become close to unbearable.  A half-mile earlier, a tiny Mexican woman had come out and rubbed some Icy Hot onto my back for me.  Jack doled out a few pills and Andrew rubbed my back again as I leaned over a fence.  A few passing runners called to me, "Keep going; you got this!"

Jack tried to convince me to take a ten- minute break but I refused.  Here's the thing: after the first 10 miles, your muscles become hypnotized and you can keep going pretty much infinitely.  But if you stop, if you sit down, you do not get back up.  I knew this and so did he.  Worried I'd hurt myself, he spent a quarter-mile loping beside me, asking me to please consider that my point was proven and I was stronger than a broken leg.  I ignored him. 

Mile 16: Mile 16 marked a transition into an area in Beverly Hills I was familiar with.  We turned onto Burton Way, which is right next to Cedars-Sinai, where Andy works.  This mile followed Doheny Drive.

I would say that this was arguably the hardest mile for me.  I seriously considered dropping out.  My pain was hovering at a 6-7 and I was having trouble lifting my arms.  When I did, to press on my back between my shoulders, I was met with white-hot pain.

Mile 17: Most of the water stops were gone, along with the toilet banks, but I had no interest in water.  I was an automaton, moving forward.  I dragged myself down Rodeo, where the police were in the process of removing roadblocks and re-opening streets, and tourists were getting last-minute pictures of the empty streets and storefronts that were, for once, unblocked by crowds.

My pace had turned into a languid shuffle and I continued to consider dropping out.  We passed the Beverly Hills courthouse and police office, where Andy and I had gotten our marriage license, and went through a small stretch on Wilshire, past several blocks of stores like Saks, Brooks Brothers, Niemann Marcus, Gucci, and Tiffany.

I had proven my point, but damn it, I wanted my medal.  Besides, the Ibuprofen was kicking in and I felt at least a little less pain than before.  Also, I was worried that if I dropped out, I was forever associate my cool new limited-edition sneakers with failure.

I remember that this corner, Wilshire and Santa Monica, was quite close to where I used to work at UCLA.  I considered strongly turning and heading to campus for a pick-up, but then Jack called me to tell me once again to drop out, and spurred on by spite, I continued my death  march.

Mile 18: After two excruciating miles of pain and debating whether or not I'd finish, I got my second wind at mile 18.  We were somewhere in Century City.  Mile 17 was the last marker I had seen.  The rest had been taken down.  At this mile, there were few people left.  Fat people trying to prove that "Healthy At Any Size" is a thing (it's not), people in elaborate costumes or outfits (including a guy in full trival Aztec gear and a firefighter carrying a flag), and people like me, who had suffered injuries and whose completion of the race was uncertain.

Mile 19: I was vaguely familiar with this area, in Westwood.  We were very close to UCLA.  My sense of direction was utterly warped and I did not really know where we were, only that the street was Santa Monica.

I was following other "runners" because there was no longer any real "route."   The blinking traffic lights were the only indication that we were still on the right track.  I pulled out my phone and checked the route to make sure I was following it, aware that, from here on out, I was on my own.

Mile 20: As I shuffled past a Starbucks, a lady sitting at a table on the street offered me some water and oranges and told me I was just at mile 20 and I ought to keep going.  Bless this lady.  It was probably past 1 pm and the race was "over."  Most runners had either crossed the finish line already or dropped out.  There were discarded signs along the sidewalk: "Go Eric!" "Kick some Asphalt!"  "Fight on!"

Knowing I was at mile 20, I felt that I could finish.  I called Andrew and told him to meet me at the finish line in two hours, aware that I couldn't possibly be going faster than a walk, even though my movements were run-like.  My knees were no longer bending properly and I could not easily go up and over curbs, but at this point, all runners had been pushed onto the sidewalks by the police, who were opening up the streets again.  We had spent the last two miles passing street sweepers, watching the clean-up process.

I passed the VA at mile 20 and another runner and I, shuffling in place by the stop light, discussed the unfairness of our plight.  We had passed a medical tent being taken down, which was baffling since people at our mile at this time were probably in most need of help.

"I don't know where we are, but we're near the VA.  Probably only like five more miles," he said wearily.  We lost each other the moment the light changed.

Although we were being pushed onto the sidewalk, there were still lots of streets that were closed, and runners shuffled across them in sad little packs, trying to follow a route that was no longer clearly marked.

Mile 21: Mile 21 looped around the southern edge of the Veteran's Park and connected to San Vincente.  Only 5 more miles to go!

Artist's depiction of everyone who was left.

Mile 22: Mile 22 took us through Brentwood, the neighborhood west of Westwood.  I dragged myself past a large golf course and saw my first glimpse of the ocean, which was a welcome sight.  There were sea breezes coming in that were blessedly cool.

The sidewalks now had regular people but they clapped and gave thumbs-up.  Not runners themselves and unconcerned with time, they, like me, saw the merit in finishing and encouraged me not to give up.

Mile 23: At mile 23 I passed several weeping runners sitting down, unable to continue.  For several miles I had been passing these people.  Like me, they were people with a point to prove, and their bodies had simply given out.  Knees and ankles, already wrapped in tape, were no longer weight-baring.  Some had companions with them who were massaging them, trying to help them back up; twice, I saw people supporting their partners' weights in a bizarre three-legged race.  So close to the finish line, I felt terribly for these people.  There but for the grace of God was I.  But I could not stop.  I was trapped in an inertia and was all too aware that the moment I stopped I was done for.  My muscles quivered and at every curb I had to physically pull up my left leg.

I called Andrew again to give him an update: 5K away, but it would take me at least an hour at my pace.  I was now 2 pm and the sun was relentless.

Mile 24: At mile 24 I checked my phone and discovered something useful.  San Vincente ran perpendicular to numbered streets!  Starting with 26th St., the streets provided a useful countdown to the ocean.

Some other runners asked me if I knew how much further it was.  I underestimated badly: probably only one mile, I said.  (It was closer to three.)  I explained that the streets numbered down and then it was a left turn at the ocean.

They were clearly relieved.

Mile 25: I passed 7th St with a sharp, excruciating pain in my left foot.  I guessed it to be a blister than had popped.  From the feel of it, my right foot was covered in blood or serum within my shoe.  Every step was agony.  I was whimpering and grunting as I moved.  The only thing that kept me going was knowing how very, very close I was.  (I still thought I only had a mile.)  My eyes were literally tearing.  My pain was at an 8.

Mile 26: I turned onto Palisades Park, the ocean sparkling brightly.  It was after 3 pm in Santa Monica, more than eight hours since the marathon had begun.  Last year I had remembered a big fair at the finish line, but that was gone.  No one was cheering.  The street was empty, the finish line dissembled, and the after-race fair closing up.  That was it.  My triumph was my own.

Mile 26.2: I followed a path through Palisades Park and spotted a guy wearing a tag that said "Finish Line."  

"...was that the finish line?" I asked.

"Yes," he said.

I had crossed it without realizing.  I was told my medal would be shipped to me.  No one congratulated me.  No one clapped.  I kept walking, my right foot screaming with every step as if I was stepped on a nail.  That was it.  I'd done it. 


Day 0: Because the race was over, Andrew had not been allowed to meet me at the finish line.  I walked two blocks to meet him and he put an arm around me to help me to the car.  I was crying a little with pain and also the indignation of being robbed of a celebration.  There had still been stragglers, people crossing at eight-and-a-half hours, and it was these people who had fought the hardest and overcome the most.  For us, the last third of the race had not had any support, physical or emotional, and we had carried through regardless.

We stopped by McDonald's and I got a Shamrock shake.  Apparently they sell these to non-marathon finishers, which I found shocking.  Seems like that might lead to an obesity problem but okay.

Once home, I peeled away my clothes.  My skin was covered in salt as if I'd rolled around in it.  My lips were bleeding.

My left leg had held up surprisingly well, but at the expense of my right leg, which was doing more work.  The issue with my right foot's pain became obvious when I peeled off my sock.

One of my toenails had fallen off.

A blister had formed on two of my toes and on one, the blister was so big that it had pushed under the nail, loosening it like a baby tooth.  The nail wiggled.  I nearly threw up.  Over the next twelve hours, I drained the blister three times, struggling to keep the nailbed covered with a band-aid.

In case you didn't need more reason NOT to run a marathon, be aware that this is a fairly common thing.  You can lose nails.

Day 1 (Monday): I was so stiff that walking was very difficult.  I staggered around like a toddler, holding onto things for support.  I was as weak as a kitten.

Also I discovered I'd forgotten to wear sunscreen; my skin felt too tight and my shoulders, chest, and face were all bright red and hot to the touch.

Day 2 (Tuesday): Still stiff and still sore, but able to get myself off of the couch without needing a medical team to supervise me, I wrote this blog post, reflecting on what I'd learned.
  • Chapstick and sunscreen are a must.
  • Training is a must as well and you are an idiot if you don't do it.
  • Break in your shoes.  Do not buy them the day before and think of the marathon as the break-in event.
  • Marathons are the world's most existential endeavor: you are hurrying to nowhere and you pay a lot of money to do that, and get nothing for it, except for pain.
  • No one should ever run a marathon.
  • Oh God why.
 In conclusion, wow that was awful.  If you run a marathon you absolutely must do it for yourself because, especially if you are slow, old, injured, or out of shape, and finish last, you will be doing it without any fanfare.

You must be driven by your own sense of accomplishment.

However, truthfully, this is the only reason to run a marathon in the first place.  It's the only reason to do anything, really.  To be able to stand up tall and say, "I did it."

...and trust me, as soon as I actually can stand again, I will be doing so with my head held high.

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